Monday, September 19, 2011


by Pamela Ehrenberg

We're all social creatures—even, or maybe especially, writers.  I remember this each time I see the other Pencil Tips bloggers and a few dozen other "book people" at meetings of the
Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC.  The social hour at the beginning of each meeting looks something like a bee hive: dozens of authors, illustrators, and librarians, otherwise content to putter away on their own, are suddenly set free in a room buzzing with social energy, and we need to absorb enough to last through the coming weeks of solitary creation.

For young writers, various types of group story exercises can channel some of that social buzz, directing it in a way that's productive for writing and helping writers build enough trust to feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback.  Writopia workshops, with three to six participants each, use this form of the group story exercise to create fiction stories:

First, participants brainstorm several possible settings and several possible problems for the story, selecting one of each. Together, they flesh out the characters, making sure to choose the same number of characters as there are workshop participants.  They think through what each character looks like, what each character wants, and what the characters are likely to do to try to get what they want.  The students determine an outline of the plot, along with beginning and ending lines for each section—then each person writes a section of the story, from one character's point of view.

Hilarity often ensues.  Surprisingly strong writing often ensues too.  But most importantly, kids who didn't even know each other an hour earlier have now shared the intimate process of crafting a story—giving them courage to support each other as they move forward with their own work.

It can be a challenge for us as teachers, and writers, to break down our ideas of writing as a universally solitary activity.  But exercises like group story can help students get their first tastes of what it's like to be part of a writing community.  Now there's something worth buzzing about.

P.S. Don't forget to comment for a chance to win a copy of Pam Smallcomb's I'm Not!

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"...a fresh take on friendship/reassurance stories and is, for sure, not boring"
- starred review Kirkus Reviews December 2010

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